Xyrah Wheatley is from the small island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. She holds an undergraduate degree in International Relations and a Masters in EU Politics specialising in the International Relations of Europe. After her postgraduate studies at the London School and Economics and Political Science, she gained experience in foreign affairs while working at the Virgin Islands diplomatic mission in London as an International Affairs Intern. Following on from this, she worked at a planning communications agency in the United Kingdom as a Senior Account Executive, where she provided research and support activities on a range of client and project work.
Xyrah’s academic research interest focuses on the politics of British Overseas Territories, and the unique international relationships of the British Virgin Islands. In the autumn of 2020 she moved back to the Virgin Islands to assume the role of Political Officer at the Virgin Islands International Affairs Secretariat.
Outside of her passion for international relations, Xyrah is a part-owner of Solitude Hair Salon. A salon that specialises in hair-care for natural afro-caribbean hair. She also manages the operations of her partner’s farm business in Ghana. She is known for witty remarks and travel adventures.
Potolicchio: What PGLF school did you do and what was your most memorable moment or takeaway?
Wheatley: I participated in the PGLF school in Moscow back in 2015. The most memorable moment for me was the interview simulation activity. I can’t remember if we were selected or if we volunteered to participate in the exercise, but I do remember feeling very hesitant to sit in front of other attendees in the lecture room and answer unanticipated questions. Whether I was selected or semi-reluctantly raised my own hand, I found myself in one of the four chairs at the front. There were a few knockout rounds and then a final tie-breaker. I honestly thought I would be out by the first round, but I was pleasantly surprised I made it as one of the final two participants! I didn’t think my answers were that brilliant, but apparently it was a very close showdown. I was very pleased at this moment because the two of us were black women from the Caribbean as well. The day is also forever etched in my mind because technically I should’ve won since the question was ‘what’s one book you’ve read and what did you love or learn from it’ and my fellow participant stated two books - the competitor in me still won’t let this go!
My main takeaway from this was being confident in myself and using the techniques we were taught to overcome our social anxiety. To this day I still keep a 10% smile when on a screen or do warm up exercises before doing a public facing event. I am also mindful of filler words I use.
Potolicchio: What have you done since PGLF and what are you up to now?
Wheatley: Since PGLF I’ve been focused on my academics and global network. I participated in a number of international events representing my country, including the UNESCO 9th Youth Forum. I also completed my postgraduate studies and travelled! I’m currently about to settle into a new job in foreign affairs - a new challenge really. I’m just looking forward to the next adventure!
Potolicchio: What is a trait that will become increasingly important for young professionals?
Wheatley: Global Citizenship will definitely be a critical attribute. With all that’s going on in the world in terms of interconnectedness, and even more so highlighted during this pandemic period where more people of are moving their business online or promote remote working, young professionals will have to be well-versed in global citizenship, with an appreciation and understanding of other cultures. I think it moves beyond just knowing another language, people want to know are you relatable, can you bond with people from other cultures, other places.
Potolicchio: Where were you raised and what is a can't miss element of your hometown?
Wheatley: I was raised on the 8.5 square mile island of Virgin Gorda in the Virgin Islands. The most alluring feature of the island is the beaches. We undeniably have some of the best beaches in the world. They’ve always been a point of beauty and imagination for me.
Potolicchio: What global leader most impresses you?
Wheatley: If I had to pick one it would be Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda. I really like strong leaders with a vision for the people and nation. I’m not from the country so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’ve watched a number of his interviews and watched the developmental progress of the country. What is most captivating about him is readiness to defend his country and reject any external influence with their own interests attempting to dictate what is best for their people.
Potolicchio: What advice would you go back and give yourself at 18?
Wheatley: If I’m being honest there’s a plethora of advice I would give myself but that would change my entire experience and I’m not quite sure if that’s fair or something I would even want. However, if I had to pick key pieces of advice that would be ultra-useful it would be “build your financial literacy!” I’ve always been good with financial stability but I’ve never been financially visionary. I would’ve loved to learn about investment versus savings at an earlier stage and generally economics.
My last piece of key advice would be “surround yourself with people that enrich you.” Just to be clear, I’ve never had terrible friends but I’ve had friends circles that gave questionable advice, or didn’t understand the value of some of the decisions I made. That’s not bad on them - I just think when people don’t understand or share similar experiences it's easier for them to project their fears and limitations onto you. So my advice would be recognize the people who you are learning from most and who motivate you to stay focused and curious while having fun.
Potolicchio: When international travel opens up again, what's the spot you'd most recommend we try out?
Wheatley: Ghana! It’s such a culturally rich place. It’s one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been to and the food is great! Staying along the coast is a phenomenal experience I can’t recommend enough.